Musings on The Night Bookmobile and ‘Do we historicize bookstores when we romanticize them?’

It may come as some surprise to those of you who know about my obsession with bookmobiles that I only recently read Audrey Niffenegger’s graphic novel, The Night Bookmobile. I finally sat down with the book while visiting Little Shop of Stories in Decatur. Little Shop touts itself as being “a bookstore for children and their adults” and boasts a unique collection of adult books that fits this child-at-heart description, The Night Bookmobile being one of them. Needless to say, I fell in love with the book instantly.

The images are evocative, particularly the sympathetic (and somewhat creepy) drawings of Mr. Openshaw. I love equally his ghostly  white skin as I do his concerned and inquisitive expression, which Niffenegger captures perfectly in her drawings of him peering over the rim of his quintessential librarian spectacles. I connected with the protagonist, Alexandra, and her restless, blind searching for belonging and escape. Who wouldn’t be tempted to live on a magical, night bookmobile?

As endearing as the book is (inspiring, even, for us closet librarians), there runs throughout it an unsettling, somber tone. The graphic novel was serialized first in The Guardian in 2008 and published later in book form in 2010: exactly the period when the book industries’ problems peaked.

I love this book because it appeals to my romantic tendencies; portraying libraries and book mobiles as mysterious, undervalued treasure-troves, as they were in a bygone era (or as I imagine them to have been), before library funding cuts and the Amazon-dominated book market. But I can’t help wondering, have we who cherish these literary meccas relegated them prematurely to the realms of fantasy? Have we historicized them and, in so doing, sealed their fate?

These are my musings on a beastly hot, Saturday morning. I’d love to hear yours.

(Photo from The Guardian)




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